Call Center Jobs in Latin America Are New, Not Lost from the U.S.

American companies are putting an increasing number of call center agent positions, or APs (terminals from which call center agents make and/or receive telephone calls to internal or external customers), in Latin America. Most of these are new jobs, rather than ones lost to the U.S. call center industry, according to Mark Best, a technology analyst for Datamonitor and author of a new report, "Call Center Outsourcing in Latin America and the Caribbean to 2008." The Latin American call center market, according to Datamonitor, is the fastest growing region in the world, with Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina leading. Currently the region has more than 336,000 APs in 5,100 call centers. Only a fraction of those APs--0.4 percent--are now outsourced from the United States. Latin American sites, notably Mexico and Argentina, are gaining popularity among U.S. firms for their call center needs for several different reasons, according to Best. Though some financial services, telecommunications, and other firms have offered call center assistance in English and Spanish for a few years, the multilingual options are just starting to take hold in 2004. Therefore, they need new Spanish-speaking agents, not just replacements for current agents. The report says that the number of call center agent positions outsourced from the U.S. to Latin America (which includes South America in this study) will more than double, from 10,600 now to 25,100 by the year 2008. However, most of those positions won't be ones shifted from the U.S., which currently has 2.86 million agent positions. The number of U.S. call center APs is expected to grow 1 percent annually through 2008. Many companies that outsource call center jobs to foreign countries follow a nearshore and offshore strategy, the report states. Canada is the preferred nearshore location; Mexico offers a better option if the call center services a high percentage of Spanish-speaking customers. For offshore purposes Argentina is rapidly gaining popularity, according to Best. Though India is still a popular call center location, with about 50,000 outsourced positions from the U.S., Argentina is closer and has a more critical need for jobs, Best says. Whereas Argentina is about nine hours away by air from the southern U.S., it takes a day or more to get to India. It's less expensive and cumbersome for executives to travel to Argentine call center locations to set up operations and any necessary on-site visits, Best says. Argentina also offers more of a Western culture, which is a selling point to U.S. firms buying call center services, Best adds. It's also a buyers' job market: Argentina is still reeling from its 2001 currency crash, which left thousands without work, including many professionals. "There are former accountants and lawyers working in the [Argentine] call centers," Best says. Because jobs are so scarce there's only a 10 percent to 15 percent agent turnover rate in Argentina, which is somewhat lower India's (about 25 percent), and far lower than the U.S.'s 90 percent turnover rate. And, Best says, "Companies with high percentages of Spanish-speaking customers are finding that the Latin American agents do a surprisingly good job of servicing English-speaking customers, too."
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